Throwback Travel: Hot Garbage Beach Day

**NOTE to READERS: The following describes a trip which took place in March and early April, 2016.

2016-03-28 16.25.42

Tuesday, March 29th, 2016.

I wake up. And I feel teeeeeerrible.

The first words that come to mind are “hot garbage”.

Jana is also quite wrecked.

We start trying to psyche ourselves up – and each other – to get out of bed and get dressed. But it’s a struggle.

This is our one day to get to the beach. We CANNOT spend it in bed.

We rise, shakily. Once dressed, we gingerly head downstairs to the breakfast table – an hour later than planned.

And this is when I start feeling especially bad.

Julitza has put out this amazing spread – a huge fruit plate. Baby bananas. Bread. Buns. Cheese and meat. Even these little pastries and cupcakes (without frosting, but still). CUPCAKES, FAM.

Jana can barely even look at the food. I make myself eat something (to ease the hangover, but also to ease my guilt), and convince Jana to at least take a couple of bites of something. All this, while our hostesses giggle at us. (If I was in their shoes, I’d do the exact same thing.)

We take a little food to go and meet up with the Belgians and two Tasmanian girls, Em and Alana, and find a taxi that can fit all six of us, for 10 CUCs.

This man’s vehicle is old. Like, ancient. To get the radio to play, he has to take his key OUT of the ignition, use said key to turn on the radio/activate the USB port that plays music, then stick the key BACK in the ignition.

If McGyver (were real and) needed someone to meet his match, he’d need only to come to Cuba and meet one of these guys.

2016-03-29 10.24.36

At Ancón Beach, it’s good – so good – to just stretch out on a long chair under a shady tree and just relax, or wade around in the warm water. I can’t speak for Jana, but my hangover begins to loosen its grip.

We leave the beach around 3:30 p.m. A couple of hours later, we leave our casa to wander around “downtown” Trinidad before meeting the group.

2016-03-29 17.42.50

The town is a UNESCO World Heritage site – designated as such since 1988.

The bright, cheery colours of the Spanish Colonial buildings help bring the town to life, and highlight its pretty architecture.

We all start appearing on the steps outside the music house around 6:30.

But we don’t immediately go to dinner – there are pre-dinner mojitos involved, which drags things out a bit longer.

By this point, Jana’s gone from hung over to hangry.

The group eventually gets moving and – after a couple of wrong turns – we arrive at a rooftop restaurant with a nice view of Trinidad below. Dinner tonight is a nice shrimp dish, and I’ve ordered a daiquiri (yes, I’m also surprised I have the fortitude to do this), but it’s taking a dog’s age to appear at the table.

The house band for the evening starts playing. There’s some good-natured ribbing between Joe, Jana, Em, Alana and I, over which band member’s the most attractive, and whether Joe can charm them. He actually gets up and is grooving/swaying alongside the band, which is hilarious to see. (You have to be there.)

Then Joe grabs my hand to get up and dance. Because the rooftop isn’t very big, and our table is huge, I’m fully wedged in my seat with my shoulder bag across my body, and it takes me a good 30 seconds to disengage from the table.

It is easily the tiniest possible space for dancing. Sue and Ian also decide to get up and try out their dancing skills on the cramped floor. It’s fun, but a bit too cozy. I have nightmares of crashing into the stage and taking out the band. Thankfully, that doesn’t happen.

The group settles their bills, and Jana tells me she’s going back to the casa – the hangover’s taken its toll and she’s not feeling well.

As we descend the steep staircase to ground level, Joe (perhaps half-jokingly) asks if anyone wants to go for drinks.

I say, “Sure!”

Out of the corner of my eye, I can see I’ve stopped him in his tracks. I suppose, considering how bad I said I felt earlier, he’s almost taken aback.

He says, “Really?”

“Yup!” I say, making my way down the steps.

If Australians are known for their ability to drink, then some of us Canadians should be known for our ability to rally. (And when we put our minds to it, boy, can we rally.)

Sue, Ian, Joe and I go to this venue, perhaps hoping to get in a bit of dancing, and catch the tail-end of the performance taking place. While Joe grabs drinks, I finally get a chance to chat with Sue and Ian, who I’ve only seen in passing up until now. They’re from Miami – a suburb on Australia’s Gold Coast, and they chat a little bit about their hometown.

As the musical acts change onstage, it’s clear it’s not a venue where much dancing is going to happen, so after a while, we bounce.

2016-03-29 22.00.17

Sue and Ian turn in for the night, while Joe and I decide to grab one more drink and wander around.

We go back to the music house near the centre of town, only to find out the musical act performing has just finished playing. So we sit on the steps and chat – mainly comparing notes about what we could remember from the night before.

I spot the couple from the salsa club, pointing them out to Joe. We go up to them and Joe talks to them for a moment – turns out he’s pretty proficient in conversational Spanish, which is winning over the locals he’s been talking to – before asking for a photo.

We hang around a bit longer, dancing a little to the music blaring over the sound system, before calling it a night. Joe – beer in hand – kindly walks me back to my casa, where Julitza (like a mom away from home) is waiting up, to let me inside.

And with that, our short time in Trinidad has come to a close. Next stop: Cienfuegos.

_____________________________________

Photos posted above are mine. Please don’t re-post without my permission.

Throwback Travel: A Little Salsa, A Lot of Drinks

**NOTE to READERS: The following describes a trip which took place in March and early April, 2016.

2016-03-28 19.05.07

Monday, March 28, 2016.

Part Two.

Okay. So, Trinidad.

Our salsa lesson takes place only a few doors down from the “home-base” casa.

It’s fun! Learning the basic steps is a breeze, but it’s when we start learning the basic turns, that I start tripping up (almost literally).

I’m not the only one, though. Aussie couple Ian and Sue (the pair in their late 50s), are hilarious to watch as they bump into each other. They’re also not taking it seriously. At one point, the instructor pokes fun at Sue, and she (playfully?) flips him the bird. Others – like Joe and his mom, Claire – seem like naturals. Like, they’re really good.

By the time we’re tested on our moves, the hour-long lesson is over. I’m sweating profusely from the heat. We head our separate ways to take a breather and freshen up for the evening. I change into a sundress in hopes of cooling off.

2016-03-28 20.00.11

Santana’s plan this evening – such as it is – is that we go for a group dinner and drinks with him, then meet the next morning for an orientation walk.

The group asks Santana if it’s possible to do the walk this evening instead, so we can (1) get our bearings, and (2) maximize our free time tomorrow, whether it’s to hit the beach, visit the national park or explore the town at our leisure, then re-convene for the big group dinner in the evening.

Santana agrees to our group’s request. Very. Reluctantly.

So we start our orientation walk, but – HUGE SURPRISE – our fearless leader doesn’t give us a whole lot of information about the town centre, or tips on things to see and do, aside from maybe a local music house. This is, I think, when people start noticing something’s a bit off with Santana, and they start asking questions.

After our “orientation”, we go for drinks at Bar Chanchancera, inviting Santana to join us. But he’s being a bit moody. It appears at first that he’s not going to join us. He may not even come to dinner the next night. Tour-mate Joe – a really easy-going dude – starts chatting with him to smooth things over, turning on the charm to try and change his mind.

I think it kind of works in the end. We all agree to meet for dinner the next evening – picking a place in the town square, close to a mojito bar which boasts “the best mojitos”. (Santana’s words? The bar’s? I don’t quite remember.) And, miraculously, the whole group heads to Bar Chanchancera. A band’s playing and the drinks are surprisingly tasty.

Santana’s there, but doesn’t really sit that close to us. And in fact, he takes off shortly afterwards.

I Don'T Know Idk GIF by Wilson Tennis - Find & Share on GIPHY

After a round, the larger group breaks up for the evening. Jana, Lieven, Anick and I decide to make it a night on the town – we’re kind of looking to try out our newly-learned (basic) salsa moves, and are just generally excited to know we can sleep in and will have a full day to ourselves. (Joe’s going to join us, but will catch up with us after he walks his mom, Claire, home.)

The four of us walk through the town – me grabbing an ice cream cone for “dinner” – and head for the salsa bar. It’s fairly empty when we arrive. But about half an hour later people just start streaming in.

And then, the dancing starts.

Early on, Lieven and Anick are just half-dancing, half-swaying to the music. But then the locals start filling the dance floor. And of course, they’re good. Really good.

Salsa dancing – partnered dancing, really, but especially anything involving turning – gives me the figurative sweats, the way double-dutch used to as a kid. So a huge part of me is content just to people-watch as the dancers spin by for the rest of the evening.

But just before the live band (same band from the other bar, as it turns out) starts to play, one of the local men – who’s there with his girlfriend, a pretty lady dressed all in white (she practices Santería) – pulls me up to dance.

2016-03-28 22.24.21

I think it’s apparent to him that I’m not a proficient dancer.

But that’s okay – he patiently goes through the moves with me, and then off we go.

And I have to say as a beginner, it’s not bad! Soon after, the others – including Jana and Joe, who’s just arrived – are pulled onto the floor for a spin.

We leave the bar around perhaps 1 a.m. I don’t fully remember, because we’ve had a number of drinks at this point. We all head over to a late-night place, where Joe proceeds to buy us another round of drinks. I’m personally so hammered, I barely make a dent in my beer – even as Joe orders a subsequent round.

There’s talk of political issues, and an opinion or two emerges that surprises me. Our voice grow loud enough for one of the staff to come over and scold us.

We eventually call it a night, giggling and stumbling along the cobblestone streets, and parting ways for our respective casas.

And our dear, sweet hostess Julitza is waiting up for us, asking if we’re all right. (I feel bad about keeping her up late.) We say we’re fine, and amble up to bed.

__________________________________

Photos posted are my own. Please do not re-post without permission.

Heaven, Dinner and A Rooftop Bar

To simply say that I love the Gellért Spa is an understatement. It’s like saying Ron Burgundy loves scotch.

If I ever go to Budapest ever again, I’d go straight to the Gellért and only leave when I had to catch my plane – and then I’d cancel my flight. If I magically scored a job working in Budapest,  l’d be at the Gellért so often, I’d look like a California Raisin.

(Sadly, I didn’t take any pictures, because I didn’t want to lose my camera in the midst of my love affair with the thermal baths. So I snatched the following two photos from official tourist sites online.)

First stop: the outdoor wave pool. I spot tour-mate Will as I cross the pool deck. He’s been there for hours, as his sole goals for the day are to (a) sleep in late and (b) sunbathe by the pool for the entire day.

I ditch my towel on a deck chair and wade in. Refreshing. It’s just like Seville last year, except the pool’s 10 times bigger.

I get out and approach my deck chair to grab my towel and sit, when Will says, “Don’t miss the waves – they’re about to start.”

“How d’you know?” I ask.

” ‘Cause they just announced it,” he replies matter-of-factly. (Of course. Why question someone who’s been on the deck ALL DAY?)

Back in the pool a second time, I see both Randy and Surabh, Chris (one of the other fellow Canadians with our group), as well as Adam and Michelle, one of the Australian couples on our tour.

The waves subside, and we (minus Surabh) leave the pool to try and find the famous thermal baths.

We find the huge indoor pool with the beautiful columns (swiped picture at left). We also spot a small half-moon shaped pool with some people submerging themselves along the sides, which we try out.

The water’s much warmer; the skin on my legs prickles. Epsom salts? Sulphur? I can’t put my finger on it.

We sit on the submerged tile ledge against the wall of the pool. The warmth doesn’t really last, though – within about five minutes, it feels as if the water is getting cooler.

“This can’t be the thermal bath,” Randy says as we we’re sitting there. He has a point; I remember seeing signs for the men’s and women’s baths when we arrive earlier.

We get out and walk alongside the regular pool to investigate. While Michelle jumps into the pool, Randy walks to the end of the deck, and spots Surabh. I wander over to them, and Surabh explains you have to go through the respective changerooms to get to the baths. So I walk to the other changeroom, wend my way past the lockers and showers …

JACKPOT.

Two glorious half-moon shaped pools beckon. I drop my watch and towel, and submerge myself into what I discover is the hotter pool – it’s a cozy 38 degrees Celsius (100 degrees Fahrenheit). I sidle up to the underwater bench and just relaaaaax

I chat with an older lady already happily sitting in the water. Turns out she’s from Baltimore and just about to begin a boat tour which starts in Budapest. Her friend, who joins us about five minutes later, is also from Baltimore but was originally from Alabama, but married a Canadian and, until recently, had lived in Claremont, Ontario. Go figure.

Michelle eventually joins me, and we just hang out for a while. I briefly test out the other pool, which is supposedly 36 degrees Celsius (96.8 degrees Fahrenheit). It feels much cooler.

Michelle and I then leave the baths and try out the cold plunge pool (huhh! Sweet baby Moses! Freee-zing!), the steam room (the eculyptus stings my eyes), and then back into the plunge pool (still cold, but I’m not screaming).

Time’s ticking for me, so I head back to the wave pool. I see Randy, and we wait for the next round of waves. Just after it starts, I turn around to see this middle-aged woman clutching Randy’s arm. I figure she’s trying to maintain her balance and will eventually keep wading around. But she’s not letting go. So Randy has to help her get to the other side (if only to at least get his left wrist back.) 

(Unofficial running joke: Middle-aged women love Randy. He’s an assistant principal back in the States, so he explained early in the trip about how the PTA moms just love him at parent meetings. But it almost isn’t a joke during the trip – his last “admirer” was an older lady in Krakow who smiled at him all the way home on the bus.)

To fast-forward: I leave the pool, hurriedly change, and leave the Gellért (*sniff*) just in time to meet Martin – and then walk right past him as he’s coming in. Because we never asked each other what each of us looked like, nor whether we’d meet at the spa or the hotel, I assume he’s ’round the corner at the hotel. The lightbulb in my head goes off four minutes later, and I walk back to the spa, where he’s waiting outside the front doors. 

We walk back over the Liberty bridge and towards the area I’m supposed to meet the group for dinner. He then takes me over to Szent Istvan Bazilika  (St. Stephen’s Basilica, pictured at left), which is very beautiful from what little I can see. Unfortunately there’s a Sunday service, so we don’t stay long.

After about 90 minutes of walking and talking, we walk back to the street where the restaurant’s located. We run into three tour-mates – fellow Canadians from Vancouver – and chat while we wait time. At 7:30 p.m. – when the others are supposed to show up – we decide to go inside. Martin asks if he can join us for dinner; we have no problems with that.

Our tour guide Carla told – and warned us – of the huge schnitzel this place is known for. The schnitzel isn’t the ONLY thing that’s friggin’ ginormous. EVERYTHING is huge. I’m no slacker in the eating department, but I had such trouble finishing my meal, I’d be sure to be a Hungarian mother-in-law’s worst nightmare. (Well, that and the whole “not being European” thing.)

I order the chicken gulyás (goulash). I’m expecting a meal of similar size to the one in Prague.

I get a behemoth skillet with a mountain of something that remotely resembles gnocchi and a sea of sauce which is concealing not one, but three pieces of chicken.

I officially meet my Waterloo during dinner. And the two pints of Dreher beer I dumbly order before and after the meal do not help. I’m BLOATED.

The Vancouverites leave after dinner, but most of the group wants to go out, since nine tour-mates are ending their trips in Budapest.

Martin suggests this bar on the rooftop of a department store, which is supposed to be very cool. He warns us that it looks a bit sketchy (which it does). But after climbing four graffiti-ridden flights of stairs, it turns out he’s absolutely right. It’s humongous, with enough space for everyone. And the nice breeze and clear, starry night (the first I’ve seen – or paid attention to – since landing in Europe) make it a perfect night for drinking.

Before I know it, it’s the wee hours of the morning, and our group of 16 has shrunken to Martin, my fellow Canadian tour-mate Chrish, and myself. So we call it a night. Martin kindly walks us girls to the underpass at Blaha Lujza tér station, and we part ways.

What a calm, serene ending to what I thought would be such a frustrating leg of the trip.

Just when I start to change my mind about you, Budapest, I have to pack up and leave. Figures.

Sigh.